14 December 2011: Annet Henneman is founder, director and actress of Teatro di Nascosto – Hidden Theatre. For eight days she lived in Baghdad, working with a group of four young men from Baghdad to make a theatre reportage about the Voices of Baghdad. Here she explores what it means to live in this city and shares her experiences of her time in Baghdad. Iraq.

Annet Henneman is founder, director and actress of Teatro di Nascosto – Hidden Theatre. For fourteen years, Annet has been developing a genre of theatre which uses art as a medium of journalism: theatre reportage. Traveling in Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan and India she tells real-life stories from the perspectives of those who live them, for these people often ignored or silenced and in front of audiences across the world, including in 2007 the European Parliament (with the performance RIFUGIA-TI , also performed in Volterra, Italy.)

For eight days Annet lived in Baghdad, working with a group of four young men from Baghdad. Four young men who at the age of 28 have lived through three wars, who grew up watching Iraq’s heroes fighting, killing and dying on their TV screens as they waited for their favourite cartoons to start. Four young men who grew up playing the game ‘count the dead soldiers’ on the road between their village and the next, who grew up to live these very same images for themselves. Only it wasn’t so glorious.

Voices of Baghdad are those of Ali, Yasir, Fouad and Mustafa. The violence hasn’t stopped in their city, Baghdad, attacks against Christians, Muslims, soldiers, civilians have continued. These four young men, regardless of the risks in doing so, are performing this work of theatre reportage to remind their audience of the human lives behind the statistics, the significance in human terms of yet another politically or religiously motivated explosion.

Annet did not work in the Green Zone. She lived, ate and acted with the people whose stories she will not allow to be forgotten. Voices of Baghdad tells us the true story of a city which has not seen the end of the war.

Below are extracts from Annet's diary during her time in Baghdad. They will only give us a small insight on the hopes and the joy and the pain and the memories of the daily life of people in Baghdad.

Thursday, 29th September

Second day in Baghdad. It’s evening, dark. Outside I can hear a trumpet, a drum, singing of many voices. I try to see from the window. In front of the hotel, on the other side of the street, there are people singing and dancing… a wedding. And I cry. They are all the same age as Ali, Fouad, Mustafa and Yasir who are working with me to prepare the theatre reportage: Voices of Baghdad, which will later come to Volterra to do a short tour in Italy.

Today, during rehearsals, they told for the first time their stories, memories and their dreams
Today, during rehearsals, they told for the first time their stories, memories and their dreams. And I cried. This longing to dance, to sing, a longing to forget the three wars that they have lived through in their young lives… the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War, the most recent war with America. In this city of dust, of noise, of power generators, the tension continues because nobody knows what might happen from one minute to the next…. Walls of cement, even more than I saw in Palestine, but here as protection against explosions. So little freedom - due to both religion and society - to live a life so normal to Western people: the first romance, going out dancing, going out with a group of both guys and girls.

I write and can still hear the music, one of the many constant sounds of the city. At times, during rehearsals there’s the accompanying sound of the helicopters flying low over the city keeping up the constant atmosphere of war. Here, as never before, I hear how in the minds of those I’m working with, there are floating mines, memories so painful and difficult to tell… The wedding finishes in a hurry because everything happens in a hurry in the street – you never know… I open the door, keeping myself hidden in the shadows so as not to be seen and I look: the musicians are leaving and inside the hotel the music continues (Here it’s better not to make myself known as a foreign woman).

I had gone to sleep, but then I awoke with a jump. For a moment I thought that I was home in Mazzola and that there was a storm but no, I’m in Baghdad – an enormous explosion… I call D. to hear for a moment a familiar voice but I don’t say what’s happened, only “Good night”. Ali calls me to say that there has been an explosion in the South of that part of town. He tells me to stay calm but perhaps he also calls to check that I was alright, to check that I would answer my phone? I wasn’t far from the explosion. I could hear the sirens…

I thought about not saying anything about the bomb in this diary, so as not to make people worry…then I thought: “No, you have to tell: this is the reality that people here are living every day, imprisoned in this situation of war that is never really over.

Friday, 30th September

I am so tired, alone. It must be the fatigue that Ali talks about. The fatigue that captures Iraqi people, people of Baghdad, who are living in these horrendous circumstances which no longer interests the rest of the world. A taxi-driver in Florence, a little while ago, said to me: “But why do you not just stay in your own home and let them sort it out amongst themselves?” Why has everyone washed their hands of it? Already? Where are all of those who wanted to bring in democracy? How have all of these weapons got in? Why is it possible to foresee bomb attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan whereas here not at all?

I am working with young men who don’t care if they’re Muslim of Christian, who simply want a future, peace
I am working with young men who don’t care if they’re Muslim of Christian, who simply want a future, peace, and who are putting themselves at risk to speak out, to participate in events for Peace… Ali regularly works in the churches with his own shows, aiming to promote this peace. He’s had to cut his hair and at certain times has to go into hiding since he’s risking his life to do this…

Thursday, 6th October

While I am writing this, the helicopters and the sirens of police cars continue. The day before yesterday, not far from the house, there was a car that had been marked as suspect and everyone was waiting for the explosion. In the end nothing happened, but this is how things are.

In this area, we are in the middle of a checkpoint, cement walls all around the church. You cannot take photos. However, I have photos of the church from the outside and one of the 58 people killed. There are children and a lady who was pregnant and two priests amongst the dead.

Really, the contrast between the moments of joy as we work and those of tension as we’re expecting a bomb to explode not far from the church is normal life. Even being in a place like this, life goes on.

The theatre reportage tells the story of today’s Baghdad. A city without electricity, of how when you walk in the street, it seems as if there is always something with you, something you don’t know, something that knows no mercy, that something that is death. It tells the story of the lives of young Iraqis, young Iraqis such as Ali, Yasir, Fouad and Mustafa. It tells the story of when they were small and dreamed of having a banana, a Cola, a red apple, and when they did not even have bread.

Voices of Baghdad tells the story of the woman who dreams, who dreams of freedom which is nearly impossible in this city, in this country, where a large number of women will not see anything outside their own house and their own family. Even the more liberal families find themselves in this same culture. It is in the house that they can be most free.

Live in London, December 2011: Don't forget us…

Theatre Reportage with and by Annet Henneman (Teatro di Nascosto - Hidden Theatre)

From Kurdistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine and Argentina, songs introduced by photos and stories of the people she encountered and the lives she shared. Don’t Forget Us is a way to share the songs and the stories heard over fourteen years of traveling and making theatre reportage.

Performance followed by Q&A session with Annet (founder, director, actress of Teatro di Nascosto) on the work of theatre reportage, Voices of Baghdad and future projects.

(Stories and Q&A in English)

DATES AND VENUES

Wednesday 14th December, 7pm

JCR, SOAS, Thornhaugh Place, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG

Friday 16th December, 7pm

Rivercourt Methodist Church, King Street, London W6 9JT

Saturday 17th December, 8pm

Oxford Hub (above Turl Street Kitchen), 16-17 Turl Street, Oxford OX1 3DH

Monday 19th December, 5.30pm

Itadaki Zen Restaurant, 139 King's Cross Road, London WC1X 9BJ **

** Limited space: reservation necessary

Annet is coming to London to raise funds for the work of theatre reportage and awareness through the performances of Don't Forget Us of voices that should not be forgotten. The ticket fee will go towards future projects, one of which, we hope, will be bringing Voices of Baghdad to the UK in 2012.

Tickets from £5

Please contact Arabella Lawson for further information: arabella_h_l@hotmail.co.uk

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